christian morality: the faith lived 19 - Ascension Catholic Church

christian morality: the faith lived 19 - Ascension Catholic Church



Introduction: Part One

(C 1691-2051, USC Ch. 23-24)

Part III of the Catechism is divided into two sections:

(1) Foundations of Christian Morality, and (2) The

Ten Commandments.

In Section 1, we will look at the ten foundation stones

or building blocks of Christian morality. In this

article, we will examine the first six blocks.

What is Christian Morality?

Part Three of the Catechism is called “Life in Christ.”

Christian morality is all about living like Jesus. The

focus of Christian morality is our response to a God

who created us out of love and keeps us in being

every moment of every day and never ceases to love

us unconditionally. Christian morality is the faith

lived in the daily circumstances of our lives. It is

about appropriate and inappropriate responses to a

God who loves us.

Before delving into the specifics of morality through

the lens of the Ten Commandments, the Catechism

lays out for us ten foundation stones or building

blocks of Christian morality.


OF GOD (C 1701-1715, USC p. 310)

To be created in the image and likeness of God

means that every human person in our global family,

born or unborn, is endowed with infinite dignity and

should be treated with reverence and respect.

Because we are created in God’s image, we are

blessed with intellect and will. Because we have an

intellect, we can distinguish good from evil. Because

we have a will, we can freely choose to follow God’s

law of love.

But because we have inherited original sin, we are

less than we could be. Due to original sin and personal

sin, our minds suffer from a certain darkness

which can make it difficult for us to distinguish good

from evil. We make bad judgments. Our will is weakened

making it difficult for us to choose what is right

and good. But the good news is that through the

sacrament of Baptism, we have received divine grace

and life into our soul which enable us to resist the

temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil.




Those of us raised with the Baltimore Catechism

learned that God created us to know, love and serve

him here on earth, and to enjoy him forever in

heaven. The Catechism calls this “our vocation to

beatitude,” a word which means happiness. The

problem is that because of the influences of the

world, our own tendency towards sin and the

temptations of the flesh, we may believe that true

happiness is not found in a life committed to God, but

rather in the passing things that the world holds out to

us. Frequently, people say: “I’d be happy if I could


The Catechism tells us that the beatitude or happiness

that God offers us “confronts us with decisive moral

choices” (C 1723). It teaches us that the key to

happiness is following the law of love as spelled out

in the Ten Commandments, the beatitudes and the

teachings of the Church.

The beatitudes (Mt 5:3-12) are at the heart of Jesus’

teaching. Many scholars tell us that the eight beatitudes

are summed up in the first one: “Blessed are

the poor in Spirit” (Mt 5:3). The “poor in spirit” are

those who know their absolute need for God and live

their lives in radical trust and dependence on God.

Because the poor in spirit have learned to trust God

in all things, they are called “blessed” and “truly


In order to embrace the beatitudes as the key to a

happy and blessed life, we must undergo a deep

conversion of heart. Prior to such a conversion, the

beatitudes do not seem to make sense as they are not

a recipe for happiness but for sadness.

Pause: What is your understanding of a moral

life? Has this understanding changed over the



FREEDOM (C 1730-1742, USC p. 310)

Freedom of will means the ability to freely choose to

live our lives or not to live our lives, as God would


have us live. Christians believe the more we follow

God’s path, the freer we become.

The flipside of freedom is responsibility. Freedom is

not the freedom to do as we want, but to do as we

ought as creatures of God. When we abuse our

freedom to do only as we want, we will gradually

become slaves to selfishness, sin and evil. The

Church recognizes that sometimes our freedom is

diminished or nullified due to ignorance, fear or other

psychological factors (C 1746).


MORAL ACT (C 1749-1761, USC p. 311)

The fourth block or foundation stone of Catholic

morality concerns the three elements of a moral act:

the act (what we do), the intention (why we are doing

this act), and the circumstances in which we perform

a particular act (where, when, how, with whom, etc.).

Let’s look briefly at these three elements of a moral


Objective act (what we do). For an individual act to

be morally good, the object, or what we are doing,

must be objectively good. Some acts, irrespective of

the motive or intention for doing it, are always wrong

because they go against a fundamental or basic

human good that ought never to be compromised,

e.g., the direct killing of an innocent person, torture

or rape. “Such acts are called intrinsically evil acts,

meaning that they are wrong in themselves, apart

from the reason they are done or the circumstances

surrounding them” (USC p. 311).

Intention or motive (why we are doing this act). This

is usually called the subjective element of a moral act

because the intention for doing the act lies within us.

Two things should be noted here:

• A good intention can never make an intrinsically

evil act good. For example, the killing of an unborn

child to protect the mother’s reputation is

always seriously wrong. Hence, the saying: “The

end does not justify the means.”

• A bad intention can turn a good deed into an evil

one, e.g., giving money to a charitable organization

for the sole purpose of being recognized and


Circumstances surrounding the act. Circumstances

can and do contribute to increasing or diminishing

goodness or evil of the act, e.g., how much money

was stolen. Circumstances can also lessen or increase

a person’s blameworthiness for a particular act. For


example, there is considerable difference in degree of

guilt between a teen who has an abortion, not fully

aware that the unborn child is truly a human being,

and someone who clearly knows that the fetus is an

unborn child but decides anyway to terminate the

pregnancy because having a child would be costly

and a great inconvenience. There is a difference

between missing Mass on Sunday because one is lazy

and missing Mass because the nearest church is 60 or

100 miles away.

In summary, for an act to be morally good, all three

elements: the act (what I do), the intention (why I do

it), and the circumstances surrounding the act, must

be good.

Pause: The article offers some examples of how

circumstances can diminish one’s culpability in

an immoral situation. Can you think of other



CONSCIENCE (C 1776-1802, USC p. 314)

“Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the

human person recognizes the moral quality of a

concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the

process of performing, or has already completed”

(C 1778).

The voice of true conscience is like a law written in

the core of our being by God calling us to do good

and avoid evil. This inner voice helps us to distinguish

right from wrong and nudges us to do what

we believe to be good.

Eight types of conscience

Over the centuries, moral theologians have distinguished

several types of conscience. The following

are eight of them.

1. A true or correct Catholic conscience is one that

has made a sincere effort to discover the truth and

one that acts in accordance with the Word of God and

the teachings of the Church.

2. An erroneous conscience is one that is contrary to

God’s Word and the teachings of the Church. One

may have an erroneous conscience and not know it.

For example, a couple may think that their marriage

is recognized by the Church when in fact it is not. A

couple may think that “living together” prior to

marriage is morally correct when in fact it is contrary

to the teaching of the Church.

3. A bad conscience is one that has not even inquired

about what is right or wrong. It is a conscience that

has no regard for objective truth.

4. A weak conscience is one that may know what is

right but has not the courage or spiritual power to do

what is right. Or it may know what is wrong and

sinful and yet does it. For example, a woman may

know abortion is wrong but she may not have the

psychological or moral strength needed to carry the

baby to full term. A weak conscience is also easily

swayed by the opinions of other people.

5. A scrupulous conscience is one that frequently

thinks that it is sinning when in fact it is not. For

example, because of deformative and perfectionistic

training in a particular area like sexuality, one may

think that he is constantly sinning against the virtue

of chastity. It has been said that a scrupulous person

thinks that God is a tyrant. His God has an all-seeing

eye that watches his every move and is ready to

pounce on him for every wrong act. A person with a

scrupulous conscience needs to place himself under

the guidance of a competent and compassionate

confessor who will help to introduce him to the love

and mercy of God.

6. A lax conscience is one that is insensitive to the

good that ought to be done and the evil that ought to

be shunned. For example, one may be a racist, or may

have little or no social conscience, or be very permissive

in sexuality issues.

7. A rebellious conscience is one that shows little or

no respect for Church teaching, a conscience that

says: “I don’t care what the Church (or maybe even

the bible) says; I will do what I want to do.”

8. A formed conscience is one that has sought to

inform and educate itself about a particular moral

issue. For Catholics, forming one’s conscience will

always involve a prayerful reflection on what scripture

and the official teaching of the Church have to

say on a particular issue.

Any of us may have several of the above conscience

types at the same time. For example, we may have a

scrupulous conscience concerning sexuality issues

and a lax conscience about justice issues. We may be

well informed about some moral issues and be quite

uninformed about other issues. Then again, there may

be a moral area where we suffer from a weak conscience.

We know what is right but we fail to do it, or

we know what is wrong and yet we do it.


Education of conscience. The Catechism states that

the education of conscience is a lifelong task”

(C 1784). Some helpful aids in the formation of conscience

are: scripture and other spiritual reading,

knowledge of Church teaching, daily examination of

conscience, regular use of the sacrament of reconciliation.

Should one always follow one’s conscience? One

should always follow a well formed conscience, a

conscience that we take time to educate about a

particular issue. The Catechism states: “A human

being must always follow the certain judgment of his

conscience. If he were to deliberately act against it,

he would condemn himself” (C 1790).

Pause: Building Block 5 addresses the issue of

conscience. Which of the above-listed eight types

of conscience had you not thought about or were

you not aware of?


GOD’S MERCY (C 1846-1876, USC p. 312)

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and

the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is

faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and

cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (Jn 1:8-9)

We live in an age when the reality of sin is denied

and in which there is much confusion about sin.

Facing sin in our lives demands courage. Denying it

is as dangerous as denying cancer. It can lead to

spiritual death. Karl Menninger, a well-known

psychiatrist and author of the book Whatever Became

of Sin, recognized that when his patients took

responsibility for wrongdoing in their lives, their

mental health improved and vice versa.

What is sin? (C 1849-1851)

In general, sin is our failure to live the Great

Commandment to love God, others and self. The

Confiteor, which we sometimes pray at the beginning

of Mass, offers us a good description of sin.

“I confess to Almighty God and to you, my brothers

and sisters [a recognition that sin is not only an

offense against God but it also wounds the Body of

Christ and our church community], that I have sinned

through my own fault [I take responsibility for the

wrong I have done], in my thoughts and in my words,

in what I have done [sins of commission], and in

what I have failed to do [sins of omission].” Too

often, we forget sins of omission, the failure to do the

good we could have done.

Mortal and venial sins (C 1852-1864)

While all sin is serious and ought to be avoided, some

sins are more serious than others, just as some

offenses between two people are more hurtful or

damaging to the relationship than others. Some

offenses are so serious that they can kill a relationship.

So it is with us and God.

Mortal sin fatally damages the relationship between

us and God. The Catechism states that “mortal sin

destroys charity in the heart of turns us away

from God...” (C 1855). Traditionally, the Church has

taught that for a sin to be mortal, three conditions

must be present.

• Grave matter, e.g., murder, adultery, rape, torture.

• Full knowledge: we clearly know that our action is

gravely sinful.

• Full consent of the will: we freely and under no

duress choose to do the evil. Factors that diminish

full consent are fear, compulsion, and addiction

(C 1860).

The first of the above three elements of mortal sin is

easy enough to determine since “grave matter is

specified by the Ten Commandments” (C 1858). But

the other two conditions can be very difficult to

properly discern, even in oneself, much less in others.

Hence, we should never assume that someone is

guilty of mortal sin (C 1861).

Venial sin wounds but does not destroy our relationship

with God. “All wrongdoing is sin, but there is

sin that is not deadly” (1 Jn 5:17). All sin should be

avoided for it weakens our relationship with God.

Ignoring venial sin is like ignoring a minor cancer

that can become a serious one. “Deliberate and

unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to

commit mortal sin” (C 1863). We know the truth of

this statement as we consider how a gradual neglect

of a relationship can eventually lead to divorce.

The seven capital sins. Some sins are called “capital”

or “deadly”’ because they can lead us to other sins

(C 1866). They come from the writings of St. John

Cassian who lived in the fourth century. The seven

capital sins are pride, avarice (greed), envy, wrath,

sloth, lust, gluttony. An excellent 36-page book on

the “Big Seven” is Liberation from the Seven Deadly


Sins by Fr. Kevin Joyce (,

tel. 408-247-9237).

Social sin. In addition to personal sin, the Catechism

also speaks about “structures of sin,” sometimes

called institutionalized sin, e.g., unjust political and

economic laws that favor one segment of the

population over another.

God’s mercy. “Where sin increased, grace abounded

all the more” (Rom 5:18). We cannot speak about sin

without speaking about God’s mercy. His mercy is

always greater than our capacity to sin. One of the

best ways to deepen our sense of God’s mercy is to

meditate on the wonderful mercy stories in the

scripture (Lk 7:36-50, 15:1-32, 23:39-43). But to receive

God’s mercy, we must first sincerely repent of sin.

The above scripture readings are wonderful stories

about God’s mercy and about people turning from


Pause: Building Block 6 deals with sin. What are

some prevalent behaviors today that are sinful

but are washed over as being acceptable, e.g.,

missing Mass for no good reason, racism?

Suggested action

This week, spend some time with the above six

blocks of Christian morality. Be aware of how they

may apply to your daily life and daily decisions.


Thomas More (1478-1535) was a well- educated man,

had a rich family life, was a devout Catholic and the

Chancellor to King Henry VIII of England. We might

say, “He had everything going for him.” His only

problem was that his friend the King wanted him to

take his side when he broke with Rome over his

divorce. The King also demanded that Thomas

acknowledge him as the supreme head of the Church

in England. Thomas refused. As a result, he was in

prison for fifteen months, lost all his titles and land,

and was convicted of treason in a bogus trial and

was beheaded. Before he died he said: “I die the

King’s good servant, but God’s first.” Thomas chose

to die rather than violate his conscience.

Fr. Eamon Tobin ©

Ascension Catholic Church

Melbourne, FL √ tb 06.22.10

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